Category: Pondering Peace

Local Community People Doing Their Part

This past Saturday I attended the KC Climate Summit, an annual event that tracks the progress being made on climate action in this area and highlights community leaders who are heading up these endeavors.  The story of how KC Climate Action got started is an interesting and inspiring one.  Several years ago, two people who were involved in local government and also parents of young children started talking about climate change.  Mike Kelly is an attorney who was serving as the mayor of Roeland Park, a municipality within the larger Kansas City area.  Lindsey Constance is a public school teacher who was serving as a Shawnee City Councilmember for Shawnee, KS (in which the Central Seminary campus is located).  Their concern about climate change related a lot to their young children and the threats it posed for their future, and so they decided they needed to do what they could to respond.

Learning about the scientifically researched climate solutions promoted by Project Drawdown, they initially gathered a hundred local leaders from across the Kansas City area for a time of learning.  They encountered a common concern and energy to take action.  Out of these roots, KC Climate Action was formed in 2019 for the ten-county metropolitan region of Kansas and Missouri that make up the Greater Kansas City area.  In partnership with the Mid-American Regional Council, it engaged in the hard work of assessing the region and learning the ways in which greenhouse gases are emitted here.  They moved on to develop a Kansas City Regional Climate Action Plan that details specific goals and means. The overall goal is to reach net zero emissions by 2050, with all local governments becoming net zero by 2030, regional energy generation becoming net zero by 2035, and all home and buildings becoming net zero by 2040.  Nineteen different governments serving 83% of people in this metropolitan area have approved this plan, and each is now busy implementing efforts that are shaped for their particular locality. Learning that 63% of local greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings and 34% come from transportation, there is a strong focus on addressing these sectors.

Much is happening, and significantly more is anticipated with increased funding from the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.  Fleets of government cars are becoming electric and charging stations are being installed.  Buildings are being weatherized and transitioned from fossil fuels to clean energy sources.  Rooftop solar is being installed, and utility companies are being engaged to transition more quickly to renewable energy sources and offer energy efficiency incentives.  Composting is now becoming available across much of the region, and so much more.  It all started with two people in the community – an attorney and an elementary school educator – who had a love for their children, a concern about the changing climate, and a willingness to serve their community by leading it to a more resilient and healthy future.  I don’t know what their faith commitments and practices are.  However, I can’t but help believe that God was working in the midst of their efforts to bring about a better future for all of God’s children and creation.

At the KC Climate Summit, I ran into someone I have recently become acquainted with through my fledging efforts to engage in advocacy for utility solar.  Billy Wilkins is the development project director of NextEra Energy Resources in Kansas. Before that he spent 21 years in the U.S. Army as a civil affairs officer.  Because of increased levels of misinformation and resistance to change, working a utility scale solar project through the county approval process is not easy.  At County Commissioners meetings, there were many comments from the public that attacked his company unfairly and painted it in negative terms.  I observed Billy’s measured and respectful responses, his expressed desire to work with the community for its improvement, and his tenacity in the face of opposition.  After a bruising meeting in which his company finally received the go ahead to move on to the next step of the approval process, I had the strong sense that although again I did not know Billy’s faith background or commitments, he was engaged in the hard but spiritual work of caring for God’s creation.

God’s work in our world is not confined to the activities of the church.  One prominent missional perspective is that the church should look around and see where God’s Spirit is active and join God’s work there.  There are people in every community who have heard creation’s groaning and whose hearts have been touched by the desire to care for our earth.  They may or may not have seen their response of climate action as an expression of faith, but nevertheless they are part of a growing movement that aligns with what I believe is God’s desire for our world.

While I had the joy of talking with friends there who engage climate action as a faith response, no one at the KC Climate Summit 2023 spoke as a representative of a faith community.  The summit is intended to be geared for local government and civic and community leaders, and so perhaps this is unsurprising.  And yet, being in a region of the country where many are still part of faith communities, I felt this absence.  When someone asked workshop leaders about the church’s role in the KC Climate Action process, they indicated there had been some effort to reach out for input from faith communities early on but, in the midst of the pandemic, they had found the churches they approached to be nonresponsive or reluctant to meet with them.

Although faith communities were not seen as interested partners or having much to offer, I have hopes this can change.  My intention in attending these local climate summits each year is to understand what our local governments are doing and encourage faith communities to join in the effort and become valuable partners in caring for God’s creation.  Our upcoming zoom series on “Creation Care during a Change Climate: Doing Our Part to Reduce Greenhouse Gases” is one effort to help people of faith and faith communities be able to better do this, no matter what community they happen to live in.  You may read more about this free virtual series in my previous blog “Doing Our Part” and register to participate here.

Attending the KC Climate Summit was encouraging and hopeful.  There was a strong sense of unity and common purpose.  Everyone there was concerned about climate change and wanted to be a part of the solution.  Collectively, there is an incredible amount of work being done to move our region forward and much is being accomplished.  This is happening in communities across our country.  I am hopeful that people of faith and faith communities will do their part to be good partners in these efforts.  Certainly, at the national level there are faith-based organizations, such as GreenFaith, Interfaith Power and Light, and Blessed Tomorrow, as well as many denominationally based groups, at work.  We don’t need to feel powerless in the face of the complexity and magnitude of the climate crisis, thinking that large government entities and businesses are the only ones who need to act to make a difference.  Some of the most significant climate action is being done by people like us, working at the local level.  Getting to know these good people has been a source of joy and inspiration for me, as well as nurtured my sense of hope.  And for this I am grateful.

Rev. Ruth Rosell, Ph.D.
Director of the Buttry Center for Peace and Nonviolence
Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology Emerita
Central Seminary, Shawnee, KS

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author.